Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Jesus Angleton: CIA Spy Hunter


Angleton's zealous pursuit of Communist counterintelligence agents became a ghostly steamroller, flattening anyone who threatened his worldview, or more correctly, the world according to Anatoliy Golitsyn. Any prospective defector whose information challenged Golitsyn's version of the Soviet Monster Plot or who corroborated Nosenko's information was deemed a KGB "provocation" dispatched to spread disinformation. Angleton's detractors had a name for his logic: "sick-think."

Anatoliy Golitsyn
Anatoliy Golitsyn

Angleton and Golitsyn became increasingly convinced that there was a mole or moles working inside CIA headquarters. Angleton pushed for a joint CIA-FBI operation to expose Soviet spies within the American intelligence community and named it HONETOL, an odd combination of J. Edgar Hoover's last name and Anatoliy Golitsyn's first name. Hoover soon disassociated himself with the project because he distrusted Golitsyn and went so far as to ban him from FBI headquarters. Nevertheless, the investigation proceeded, with members of the Counterintelligence Staff, who had no investigative training, forced to work with the FBI and the CIA's Office of Security, doing hands-on gumshoe work.

Golitsyn singled out forty CIA officers as possible moles. Of these, fourteen were closely investigated. The HONETOL investigations created a tense atmosphere within the CIA. Angleton's witch-hunt made nearly everyone uneasy as they wondered who would be targeted next. The CI chief went so far as to have a yellow line painted on the floor of the vault room, cordoning off the safes that were off limits to all but his staff.

Angleton's suspicions ruined several careers as promotions were denied and raises withheld. Conclusive proof was never presented, and none of the likely suspects were ever formally charged and tried in a court of law. In each case, it was condemnation by innuendo. Some CIA officers were forced to resign from their posts, only to be rehired by other departments that weren't on board with the sick-think philosophy as consultants, some at higher salaries than they had been making.

The Main Enemy, by Milt Bearden and James Risen
The Main Enemy, by Milt Bearden and James Risen

CIA operations, particularly those within the Soviet Division, which was the agency's largest at the time, were severely hampered, as Angleton nixed any initiative that he felt could have been penetrated by a Soviet infiltrator. Soviet Division officers stopped trying to recruit Soviet spies. "Recruiting a Russian might bring them under suspicion," write authors Milt Bearden and James Risen in The Main Enemy. "Developing a Soviet as a recruitment target would inevitably lead to a confrontation with Angleton's people."

A Look Over My Shoulder, by Richard Helms
A Look Over My Shoulder, by Richard Helms

(It should be pointed out that former Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms writes in his autobiography, A Look Over My Shoulder, "The widespread notion... that Angleton brought the Agency's Soviet operations programs to a halt in the last few years of his career is patently false.")

The level of paranoia at the CIA rose so high that eventually the Fundamentalists began to suspect that Angleton himself might be a mole and Golitsyn his confederate. In time, both men were cleared of all suspicions, but the CIA remained in a state of paralysis as Angleton pressed on with his inquisition.

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